00 featured image of Group photo of Teng Fei and her students

Teng Fei, Professor of the Central Academy of Fine Arts (abbr.CAFA), master tutor, founder of the Jewelry Specialty in CAFA, academic director, Chinese jewelry artist in Germany. She combines the experimental spirit of European contemporary art with her own delicate sensitivity in material, she introduced  jewelry art to China, donated herself to education, and she is a well-deserved master of jewelry art in China. At the beginning of the spring, “Plumtree Scent: Contemporary Jewelry by Teng Fei” had a grand opening at the Ginkgo Art Center. In addition to Teng Fei’s representative works, it also includes the works by 25 artists that have graduated from the Central Academy of Fine Arts, having majored in the specialty of jewelry. CAFA ART INFO takes “Teng Fei and Her Students” as the theme to interview the artist Teng Fei and her five student representatives including the couple of Wang Qian & Zhang Shaofei, Yan Rui, Wu Mian and Li Yi.

Date: April 17, 2017

Venue: Jewelry Studio of the Central Academy of Fine Arts

Interviewees: Teng Fei, Wang Qian & Zhang Shaofei, Yan Rui, Wu Mian, Li Yi

Interviewer and text by Lin Jiabin, translated by Chen Peihua and edited by Sue/CAFA ART INFO

Photo by Hu Sichen/CAFA ART INFO

After graduating from the Department of Printmaking, Central Academy of Fine Arts, Teng Fei studied overseas in Berlin University of the Arts, Germany in 1990. Five years experience in Germany gave the art of Teng Fei an open & free external form and inherent rigorous speculation which is full of philosophical meaning. It is in Germany, where Teng Fei found the art of jewelry which was not understood by people at home at that time, but it is a field full of possibilities. In 1995, she went back to teach at the School of Design, CAFA in 1995, and first established the courses based on “material experiment”, and really brought “contemporary jewelry” to China in 2002 – this seed was finally rooted in the jewelry design specialty in CAFA directed by Teng Fei.

CAFA ART INFO: Twenty years ago, you placed the creation of “contemporary jewelry” within the development of contemporary art, “contemporary jewelry” is considered as part of contemporary art, how do you understand “contemporary jewelry”? Would you like to compare the development and understanding of “contemporary jewelry” between China and international designers?

Teng Fei: In 2012, I planned the “Ten Years · Re: Jewelry” exhibition which also launched a special lecture and seminar in the CAFA Art Museum and the auditorium. At the seminar, we discussed what was contemporary jewelry? At that time we discussed with many Western scholars whether there were many questions and disagreements. In China, for more than 10 years CAFA has discussed the thinking modes, including the definition of contemporary jewelry, perspective of viewing jewelry, creative systems, etc. We can see that jewelry art gradually developed to become mature from the immature, the single face was replaced by a gradually diversified face, growing up with such a concept. All the young designers who have grown up in this context, have the same nourishment and texture, always with quality behind their works although they have different demands and positioning that is reflected in their works.

CAFA ART INFO: After you returned to China from Germany in 1995, you established a new course entitled “Material Experiment”, and you took “material experiment” as an entrance to teaching and creation, why did you establish such a course?

Teng Fei: I came back from Germany in order to be engaged in jewelry, but the conditions were not mature at that time. The reason why I opened the courses inmaterial experiment is because of my experience in Germany, as well as my own creative practice and materials, on the other hand, I found China was relatively closed and with a single mind when I came back, so I hoped to inspire students’ creativity and imagination through material. Starting from the course in material experimentation, the jewelry specialty was really established after six or seven years of preparation.

CAFA ART INFO: You have been engaged in the teaching of jewelry in CAFA for more than ten years, which is a process from scratch, is there any adjustment or change in teaching direction?

Teng Fei: The big direction has never changed, but it requires a better arrangement of course and a higher quality. In the process, some positioning or guidance of students have undergone some changes. In short, throughout the course, the arrangement of the course changes according to the different demands, or gradually they become richer.

CAFA ART INFO: In order to maintain a leader’s posture and to play the role of leader, it is necessary for CAFA to constantly comb through some forward-looking questions in the professional areas. What are these forward-looking questions? How do you plan to research it?

Teng Fei: It is certain that we have different forward-looking thinking in different times. For example, in the beginning, our experiments and advocacy on materials focused on environmental issues, as well as the concept of sustainable development, etc., in this concept, the designers or artists cautiously used materials. When people were concerned about these issues today though we need to find and update a new issue, such as the humanistic care. Perhaps, “contemporary jewelry is precisely a carrier of the spirit.”

As an artist, Teng Fei is lonely, but she is a teacher of jewelry art, which makes her fertile, in nearly two decades of sowing and watering, a large number of young people now have the creative gene of jewelry art, they are blooming and maturing and then laying the roots in their own land. Some of these outstanding graduates have continued the conceptual creation, which has always been at the forefront of the thinking on contemporary jewelry. Some work together and set up studio brands, practicing the idea of “wearable art”, to find a path of development between the art and business with these fresh design brands which are close to the general public and have been sought after and supported by many young people. There is also a type of student that becomes a designer in large enterprises, leading the trend in the styling of large brands and jewelry industries. Some become leaders who establish the jewelry specialty in other colleges…They determine the future for the Chinese face and pattern of “contemporary jewelry”.

Wang Qian and Zhang Shaofei were admitted to CAFA in 2000, and became the students of Teng Fei’s first class with only three other students, so they really experienced the“lonely” in the road of modern jewelry, after graduation they established their own independent brand “angs”; Yan Rui established the independent jewelry brand “Hard Candy”, adhering to design for “the person who is independent, never drifting with the current”. Wu Mian and Li Yi started from the “concept”to explore the possibilities of contemporary jewelry.

CAFA ART INFO: How does Prof. Teng Fei guide students to create and think in her teaching method?

Teng Fei: In my opinion, the teacher’s responsibility is to help students to explore their own characteristics. Eachperson has uniquequalities, which are the things that I care about.

Zhang Shaofei: As one of the first batch of students for Prof. Teng’s jewelry specialty, I have worked with her for many years, I particularly appreciate that she really has a very high awareness and accomplishment to be able to find everyone’s advantage, which is a particularly great ability.

Wang Qian: When we had a class at that time, I particularly liked to chat with Prof. Teng, though most of the time I was talking, while she was always silent and listening, and then I always knew what I should do after the chat”.

CAFA ART INFO: Jewelry design is closely related to practice and production, how do you usually start these practical courses?

Teng Fei: At the beginning, there were many limitations and we have been trying to find foreign aid, including foreign resources or the support of business and brands. As long as it is beneficial, we would like to integrate it.

Wang Qian: My biggest feeling is that it is impossible for a school to provide everyone with a variety of technical training. But we can easily find the best domestic technology to support us, if I only do one thing I am ableto be the best in the industry and this ability is more important than personally doing it.

CAFA ART INFO: In addition to professional skills, Prof. Teng Fei also greatly values students’ideas and emotional expressions during creations and an open vision. How to cultivate these qualities?

Teng Fei: I think it is not a simple “training” on the emotional expression and the establishment of concepts but through the training of the way of thinking and research methods it is slowly setup and we are able to find students’own language.

Li Yi: Sometimes you feel it before thinking of it, sometimes you think of it before feeling it, but in fact after practicing for a period of time, these things will teach us some creative ways that we must follow.

Wu Mian: I don’t think there is any so-called inspiration, sometimes it is a thing hidden in your mind, but you might forget it for a while. How does this idea come? I think it’s not a clear source, but it is slowly pushed forward in various directions, and sometimes it is able to come out when it meets the work; sometimes there is an idea, but there is lack of ability, so I would like to temporarily shelf the idea, until the idea appears again one day.

CAFA ART INFO: Because the concept of jewelry has been formed over a long history, the public impression of jewelry has been very deep-rooted, how to get rid of the aesthetic vision of traditional jewelry, and maintain its own independence in creation? 

Yan Rui: Before I was a postgraduate of Prof. Teng Fei, I graduated from another school, so I had a fixed concept when I studied in CAFA. For us, it is precisely the system established by Prof. Teng, for example, the material courses, which allows us to have more languages, access to more things, and know that each material has its own language and jewelryhas more possibilities, instead of the concept that you know.

CAFA ART INFO: The next question is about art and commerce.We know that the studio of Prof. Teng Fei does not aim at business, but because of the training of the overall quality of the students, they perform well in business after they graduated.  

Yan Rui: I mainly started from myself, that is, I would like to do things that I like, and that arewearable, or blended in some popular elements, and then explore the market response.

CAFA ART INFO: It seems that all specialties in CAFA are not willing to talk about in a business sense.

Teng Fei: It is not a confident state, and I think that when a person is self-confident, these things are calmly faced.

Yan Rui: In fact, I think business is a pseudoconcept, in my eyes it is a good or bad thing, never divided into commercial and non-commercial.

Wang Qian: I think it doesn’t matter, I decided to do it anyway, continuing to do it untilI die. I have never thought of whether it will succeed or not, so I can’t answer this question although many people askme to, because it is not my purpose.

In present China, contemporary art begins to look weak, when we review the lonely creative path chosen by Teng Fei many years ago, we find that it is because of a choice of loneliness and she has never been disturbed, the growth track of “contemporary jewelry” is set off clearer and firmer. Teng Fei and her jewelry art practice is a case that has never been before she and her students are practicing on the road of contemporary jewelry. Perhaps one day in the future, Teng Fei and her “contemporary jewelry” will become a treasure that is the most worthy of study in Chinese contemporary art.

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